War and Weather and the Combat Weatherman

combat weatherman
U.S. Air Force Tech. performs daily maintenance routine on a tactical meteorological operating system.

One of these Air Force Special Tactics personnel is a meteorologist. While the team covertly seeks intelligence or performs a rescue mission, one member’s job is to gather weather data. He’s called a combat weatherman. His duty is to provide ground intelligence in the form of data and forecasts. Traditionally meteorologists gather weather information from sensors like those located at Mobile’s airport.

In war, your opponent will not share data so you’ve got to get your own, any way possible.

Combat Weatherman: We’re working with other Army Special Operation Forces. Sometimes we fly in on planes just like anyone else might get somewhere. Other times we might jump into an area. Other times we might throw a rope out of a helicopter and we might slide down the rope.

This Technical Sergeant of the 10th Combat Weather Squadron is an Air Force commando. He’s based at Hurlburt Field, home of the 16th Special Operations Wing. I can’t identify him due to the sensitive nature of his missions. He?s fully trained as a Special Tactics Operative, and also as a meteorologist. His weather office is portable and unique. He can gather information on temperature, wind, humidity, and more.

Combat Weatherman: We bring small weather instruments with us like wind sensors, temperature sensors, pressure sensors. We also bring balloons with small helium bottles that we’ll use to launch balloons to help us with cloud decks and also with upper level winds.

The combat weatherman makes predictions where he is, and also transmits data back to Air Force and Army forecasters. From troop comfort and mobility on the ground, to aircraft operation to communications, combat weathermen provide valuable intelligence. For the record they are all men so that’s why they keep the title Combat Weatherman.

Good weather data can make the difference between success and failure in war. High resolution satellites show clouds and snow cover. Satellites can even see large areas of blowing sand but they can’t tell what’s really happening on the ground. Technology does not replace the job of a Combat Weatherman.

You go into places where there could be not very many people around and there might be people who don’t really want you there.

Alan Sealls, News 5

In the 20th century, 19th century, 18th century and earlier, weather impacted war. Cold, fog, mud or even extreme heat can swing the outcome of a military action. It’s not just how weather affects the men in combat. In battles of the middle 20th century, even the big guns of the USS Alabama had to account for wind speed and direction in finding their targets.

One of the greatest battles of World War II was largely decided in our favor by weather. Normandy. D-Day. June 6, 1944. There were more than one hundred fifty thousand men waiting in the English Channel for orders from General Eisenhower. Weather was the big issue.

Martin Morgan, Historian: the meteorologist was probably the most important person on Eisenhower’s staff in the weeks leading up to the invasion.

Keep in mind that this was 1944, before satellites and Doppler radar. Weather data overseas was very limited. The battle at Normandy was launched in a lull during a major storm.

Martin Morgan, Historian: After the weather delay we still lost landing craft that had been swamped because they shipped too much water over the gun wells. They took water on and they sank outright. Now had the invasion taken place the day before on Jun 5th, which was the original invasion date, the wind was higher, the rains were heavier and the seas would naturally have been higher as well, so there would have probably been greater losses as a result of the weather.

Since World War II, technology has enabled more accurate military forecasts but it has not erased the value of meteorologists in the armed forces. Military conflicts and war have always been a part of American history, and weather has always played a role.

New equipment has changed the way wars are fought but the impact of weather on weapons systems has only shifted. For humans, the impact is still about the same. As we focus on the Middle East, temperature and humidity are a concern. And so is blowing sand.

Alan Sealls, News 5

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